16 June 2010

Review: The World in Six Songs - How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature by D.J. Levitin

Title:  The World in Six Songs - How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature
  D.J. Levitin
Genre / Pages:
  Nonfiction,  Science / 358
Publication: Penguin Group Canada, 2009
4th shelf

Source:  Chapters Indigo

lj's plot in one pot:  Levitin's research indicates that six songs (friendship, joy, comfort, religion, knowledge, and love) are the foundations of human society as we know it.

This book fed my love of music, science, human nature - quite a feat for just one text!  As I'm not a huge scientifico (yes I made that one up), I was a little concerned that I would be needing to look a lot of terms / theories up while reading this book.  However, the terms were very easy to understand and the theories were well explained...a little too well explained.  Levitin rehashes (on seemingly EVERY PAGE) the theory of spontaneous mutation.  I'm sure the author was trying to ensure that we all understood the fact that the mutation doesn't happen as a result of the environment, but rather spontaneously occurs and then happens to be favourable to the environment.  (Hey, I sound like I know what I'm talking about!  Thank you "Intro to Genetics" in undergrad!)  Moving along, aside from my irritation with Levitin's repetition, I really enjoyed this book.  Music is inherent in us all - just look at what babies do when they hear a good beat; and this book gives us the science to back it up. *If you want to learn more before you buy the book, check out this website.

The book gives each of the six songs a chapter, my favourite of which was Joy, where Levitin explains that the natural / biochemical reaction to joy is to sing, dance, jump or shout.  The author mixes scientific fact (i.e. the act of singing produces endorphins - which make us feel good ) with his, often hilarious, musical experiences (i.e. Sting and Levitin decide that probably the first "song" sung was a caveman making sounds and other cavemen joined in because it felt good). We sing for many reasons and we are many things because of song. 

"Music...is not simply a distraction or a pastime, but a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next." p.3

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